NCBA Op-Ed: How federal actions hurt family farmers

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As a cattle feeder from Nebraska I have been well-versed for more than 20 years on Clean Water Act regulations. I take great pride in the practices I’ve put in place to protect the environment, as well as the fact that what I do everyday helps feed my family and yours. What discourages me is the constant berating beef feedlots like mine must endure by environmental organizations who know little to nothing about my farm or rural America in general

Farmers with cattleChuck Folken (center), his father LeRoy (left) and son Justin (right) on the family farm. Being a family farmer means I work - a lot. Farming is a 24/7/365 job, which means that I don’t have much downtime, including time to cruise the internet. Which is why I was shocked to learn last week that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had acquiesced to pressure from environmental groups such as Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pew Charitable Trusts to provide them with very personal information on livestock farms, including my own. The information provided to these groups is so detailed, that in some cases provides telephone numbers and names of deceased relatives.

What I can tell you is that this action jeopardizes the food supply in this country and around the world. Furthermore, it actually hurts the global environment. The United States is the world’s most efficient and environmentally friendly beef producing country. Actions that push production of beef to other countries with less efficient and environmentally sound practices are a detriment to the overall environment.

The NRDC in a blog post about the release of personal information by EPA called cattle ranches and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) “industrial” operations. This just is not true; 95 percent of the feedlots in America are still classified as small operations, smaller than mine, even, and all are run by families like mine. My family-owned and operated cattle feedyard in Nebraska consists of twelve employees, including my wife, son and his wife. Categorizing my farm as “industrial livestock” is harsh and inaccurate. My family and I work side by side, day in and day out, feeding cattle, cleaning pens and managing our manure, just to mention a few responsibilities. We utilize modern technology to make sure we are producing safe, nutritious and environmentally friendly beef for consumers.

NRDC also said it’s imperative that EPA get this data so my neighbors will know that my farm is there. This one made me laugh. My neighbors know me, know where I live, go to church with me, sit on local community boards with me and our children attend school together. Believe me, they know me and my operation. I don’t think a national database and map placed on EPA’s or NRDC’s websites is going to provide them with anything they don’t already know and couldn’t talk to me about themselves.

The truth is NRDC and environmental groups like them aren’t concerned about my neighbors. If they were then they would let local and state authorities do their job in addressing any issues that are presented to them. It is our local and state authorities that have primary regulatory authority over my beef operation and guess what? They already know where I am too. Instead they want my information and the information of all other family farmers because they want to systematically make it harder and harder to produce high quality, affordable beef to feed the world. These groups simply don’t like that I have cattle in a feedlot, even if all the organic manure produced is used as fertilizer for locally grown crops such as corn. So let’s just be honest with the American public that the reality of actions like the one taken by EPA endangers my family, my way of life, our nation and the environment.

Source: Chuck Folken, Owner/Operator, Folken Feed Yards

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Iowa  |  March, 01, 2013 at 06:09 PM

This is one of the grave risks of working in any fashion with any government entity, even being regulated by police state agencies like EPA. These obsessive paper shufflers collect tons and tons of private information (much of it irrelevant to any program function). All of that information is vulnerable to seizure by anyone willing to file freedom of information act (FOI) requests. They also gossip about you among themselves in emails and memos -- all stored into perpetuity awaiting release to some miserable hatemongering enemy of agriculture. Keep this in mind whenever approached by government agencies. What possible benefit do they bring to you that could possibly offset the egregious invasion of privacy they will eventually facilitate? Understand this: when you deal with government programs you volunteer yourself for harassment and vandalism from donation churning whacko activist cults. Much, much smarter to send government reps packing when they come snooping around. They have nothing so worthwhile to offer it justifies the eventual consequences. We would be well served if this sequester nonsense somehow shuts down every prying, snooping, "helpful" government program. They will be the destruction of us unless we raise our guard against them. To hell with 'em.

MONTANA  |  March, 04, 2013 at 09:49 AM

It is the small farms that are under the gun. Large feedlots are able to "sequester" so many funds into their owners' pockets that their groundwater pollution, air pollution, and manure management fines can be paid, and the feedlot continues its work unchecked, giving us smaller farmers a bad rap. I have drunk tap water from a hotel in Iowa on Interstate 90 that stank and tasted of manure and chemicals, and the feedlots were nowhere in sight. Let's keep our water sources, air, and surrounding fields clean, send our waste materials back out as fertilizer to grow more crops, employ neighbors in good jobs, and KEEP GROWING FOOD FOR AMERICA. Small farmers and ranchers and feedlots can do this for the majority of America, and provide jobs and meaningful work all across the country. Help to keep us in business.

SD  |  March, 04, 2013 at 07:19 PM

jenny, it may not have been what you think it was tainting that water you drank! When spring begins to warm small bodies of water, driving by even the smallest of towns along our hiways is an olfactory challenge! Even if no cattle are present, the community sewage lagoons are very obviously the culprit! Think about it! That human sewage ends up in the river and streams, too. That water is cleaned up before it goes into the next water system for the next town downstream. FACT: it is more likely to be a small farm that pollutes than the large ones because there are fewer large ones and they have to 'jump through the hoops' beginning with proper design of their animal facilities to assure that there is no polluting run-off. Not so much for smaller ones, and they have fewer regulations to follow, and they do not get inspected like the larger ones do. Another factor: that fertilizer is simply too valuable to lose when it can replace costly purchased fertilizers. Amounts of fertilizer are regulated and farmers know too much will harm their crops, so they can sell it to farmers who do not have enough of it. You may not realize that farming has changed quite dramatically in the past few years. Chemicals are too costly to use too much of. The manure from animals has become too valuable to waste. Balancing the soils properly is cost efficient and cuts pollution at the same time.

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